Bertie pulls it off
- King George VI by Sarah Bradford
Weidenfeld, 506 pp, £18.95, October 1990, ISBN 0 297 79667 4
The British monarchy was tested almost to destruction in 1936-37. The crisis had three phases, of which the actual abdication of King Edward VIII was only the most visible. The monarchy had already been placed under acute strain by Edward’s unkingly conduct in the few months since his father’s death – his feckless hedonism, his dangerous political naivety and his neglect of the more tedious duties of his role. His abdication – an entirely characteristic act of childish stubbornness – was an unprecedented shock to a system founded upon precedent: yet to most of those who had seen his inadequacy at close quarters it was a relief – or would have been if there had not been serious doubt whether his brother the Duke of York was up to the job either. His health was poor, he suffered from a severe stammer and he lacked even Edward’s vapid charm. For some months – while the American press speculated that the new king was ‘of poorer royal timber than has occupied England’s throne in many decades’ – courtiers and royal-watchers held their breath to see if ‘Bertie’ would make out. In fact, the responsibility thrust upon him brought out unsuspected qualities in George VI, and the institution emerged from the trial stronger in public affection than ever before.
Vol. 12 No. 6 · 22 March 1990
In the five or so years that I’ve followed the LRB (as one ‘follows’ Arsenal) you’ve put out a large quantity of first-rate stuff: Said, Roth, Foot, R.W. Johnson, for example; or, magnificently, the Rorty essays. And, while of more leftward leanings than the latter author, I was nowise offended by his point of view, nor even by that of Ian Gilmour, feeling as I did that the journal was doing me favours by bringing me the views of such persons. But good will began to be strained with the odiously and patently sycophantic paper on George VI and his family (ascendance and descendance equally) featured in your issue of 11 January. And then the following issue, ‘When Communism dissolves’, with Jon Elster and Owen Bennett Jones lending implicit uncritical support to the ‘Death of Communism’ thesis, as though the contemporary revolutionary ideal were worth – as though it boiled down to – nothing more than systems (though to a large extent no longer – and thankfully so) in power. I have prided myself (so to speak) on the intellectual-political broadmindedness of your journal. I have been unfailingly dazzled by the talents of its contributors; and am no less so by those of Messrs Elster and Bennett Jones. And this is what disappoints me so gruesomely: that a policy of exclusive reliance on moral and intellectual clearsightedness, to the exclusion of all ideological aprioris, should have arrived at such an abrupt, precipitate, total dereliction.